The late winemaker Ken Maxwell spruiked the virtues of drinking mead way back in the 1950s, when he began experimenting with the ancient drink. In the 1960s, when he managed The Barn restaurant in McLaren Vale, he gave away free tastes of his home brew to guests on arrival.
Later, Maxwell became the first commercial producer of mead (under the Daringa label), but it wasn’t until he started Maxwell Wines at McLaren Vale in 1979 that he began producing under the Maxwell Mead label.
Ken Maxwell and Mark Maxwell with some of the Maxwell Mead at Maxwell Wines in 1980. Photo: supplied
His son Mark and grandson Jeremy have continued with the business of making mead, expanding the range from the original, spiced and liqueur meads to include a sparkling mead designed to appeal to a younger market.
The mead displays hints of citrus, white peach and nectarine, with ginger and spice.
“Think about a combination of alcoholic ginger beer and cider,” says Jeremy, when asked to describe the newly released sparkling mead.
“Dad likes to mix it with soda and a bit of lime, but I like it poured straight from the bottle with a bit of cucumber and mint.”
If it’s sounding like it could be a good substitute for a glass of Pimm’s and lemonade on a hot day, you’re getting the idea, but it’s not as sweet and is much lower in alcohol (14.5 per cent).
“The sugar content sits somewhere between the driest of ciders and, say, a Rekorderlig cider … it’s about on par with Stone’s ginger beer,” says Jeremy.
Mead production is a niche market in South Australia and Maxwell Wines is now one of around five local producers. It is the largest producer of mead in the Southern Hemisphere.
“The US market is more populated than here, but we’re feeling like we are in a good position because what happens in the US tends to follow on here,” says Jeremy.
“Since we released the sparkling mead this summer, it’s gone ballistic – it sold out within a month, so we’ve got another batch in the bottle.”
To produce its range of meads, Maxwell process 20 tonnes of honey per year (or one kilogram of honey per case of sparkling mead) but is limited by the increasing cost of honey and limited supply.
“My grandfather did some trials back in the ’60s using local honey, but he didn’t like the blue-gum influence of McLaren Vale honey on the taste of the mead,” explains Jeremy.
“Our current supplier leaves his hives on lucerne crops at Lucindale and Keith in the South East.
“The honey produced there is much lighter and more floral and fruity – we’re taking as much honey from him as he can possibly supply us.”
Maxwell Sparkling Mead is available in 500ml bottles at the Maxwell Wines cellar door and Ellen Street restaurant (corner of Olivers and Chalk Hill Roads, McLaren Vale), online and at McLaren Vale restaurants The Salopian Inn and The Barn.